Well, people, the season is upon us. I’m feeling a little late to the game this year. But I did buy firewood yesterday, which is resting calmly in the back of my pick-up truck, and I did drink a lovely little brandy cocktail last night, so that’s a start.
I also did something else yesterday evening, right before friends arrived: I made Viennese Almond Crescents—the single most important Christmas cookie in my mind, and the most crucial item in my family’s cookie repertoire.
I wanted to share it with you.
My mother and I have been making these for years. As with most good traditions, I can’t really remember when it first started. But the NY Times magazine from which it was extracted is dated 1992—so twenty years ago. That sounds about right. Most likely, in other words, I have been making these cookies for Christmas since I was ten.
This gives you a sense of how well-used the recipe is:
There are a lot of lovely things about them that I could recount: they are buttery, tender, and flecked with ground almonds; they have an earthy nuttiness that keeps the cookies from ever seeming too sweet; and they are coated in a dusting of billowy powdered sugar—sugar that clings to your fingers when you eat them, that you lick off of your fingertips when you are done. But there’s something else about these cookies that I love too: They’re crescent shaped.
For the next couple of days I’m going to try (I repeat, try) to make a selection of sweets to suit the season; I’ll post them here as soon as they are done and documented. I’ll keep the writing to a minimum—because you have a lot of baking to do, and so do I.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these.
P.S. Ever since I posted about Anis Plätzchen (those tiny German anise cookies), I have received numerous inquiries about where to buy them and where to find a recipe. My answer is always the same: I have no idea. But, recently, a very generous reader posted his research on the cookies, along with a detailed recipe of how to make them at home. You can find it here; scroll down to the comments.
And thank you, Jake.
Viennese Almond Crescents
Adapted from the NY Times, December 13, 1992
Makes roughly 30 cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, cool and cut into chunks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cups ground almonds (I use sliced almonds with the skins on and then grind them in a blender)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar, for coating the cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Cream together the cool butter and the sugar. Add the almonds, and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, toss together the flour and the salt, and then stir this into the butter mixture. I use my hands to help bring the cookie dough together once it is nearly combined, but don’t handle the dough too much, or the butter will warm and the cookies will lose their shape when baked.
Break off about 1 tablespoon of dough, and roll the dough in your palms to form a cigar shape; curve each little cigar into a crescent shape. Repeat until you have finished the dough, placing the cookies approximately 2 inches apart on the parchment-lined cookie sheets.
Bake until the cookies have browned ever so slightly around the edges: about 12-18 minutes. Begin checking them at 12 minutes and watch closely from there.
Transfer baked cookies to a rack to cool. Directly before serving, roll in powdered sugar; shake off excess powdered sugar by tossing each cookie lightly between your palms.